Chris Coleborn

It was exciting to find some new birds at Ormiston Gorge. I was really taken in by the Spinifex Pigeons, who strutted like proud little busy-bodies all around the campsite. They were much more difficult to get a clear sight of away from the camp. My children found them a bit garish in plumage - and disliked their strutting around and bullying other birds, but I found them delightfully full of character, and wonderfully camouflaged in their beautiful colouring of rich red-brown tones, with barring of black and grey, and a wing patch of bronze-green and white on their belly and around their chin. Their red eye skin patch stood out, and their crest, sticking straight up, gave them an air of superiority.

The strikingly coloured Western Bowerbird, with its black, gold and shades of grey, and a pink crest on the head, was also seen all around the camping ground, and excellent lengthy, satisfying views were obtained. We saw quite a few of the Spinifexbird in the area too. They are quite a striking bird of rich brown-rufous colouring. While shy, they are curious, and by "pishing" you could often lure them to pop up onto the top of a spinifex clump and get a good look at them.

One of the most un-expected sightings, and a first for me, was the outstandingly coloured Golden-backed Honeyeater. (Some list it as a race of the Black-chinned Honeyeater). It is rarely found in the region, more commonly found further north. What a wonderful fifteen minutes I had observing this lovely bird late one afternoon. What a jewel it was in the late afternoon sun.

We eventually had very clear sights of a family of feeding Dusky Grasswrens after days of looking for them. We had about ten minutes of viewing them across a gully, as they scampered around the spinifex clumps, at times like little rodents. It was also nice to come across, again, the always nice to see Black Honeyeater. I had been looking everywhere for the Red-browed Pardalote and the Rufous-crowned Emu-wren. Peter Wilkins, who recently co-authored a book on where to find birds in the Northern Territory, had said to just walk among the mature Spinifex found on slopes, and he would guarantee within a quarter of a mile, I would see a Rufous-crowned Emu-wren. Miles and miles later I had still not seen this elusive "scarlet pimpernel" bird, though I sought him here and I sought him there. I followed up various areas where they are supposed to be seen. There was no sign of them. They were the one new bird I had hoped to see, but I was not able to find on this trip. Lord willing, I will see them another day.

Some of the views from this area were breathtaking. To describe the colours is beyond words. Sitting on a rocky ridge, one could see, far off in the distance, dark azure "jump - ups", stark against a flat horizon. The pale blue sky was a backdrop, and a bright sun shed golden light over all. A perfect arrangement of ghost gums, their bright green foliage and stark white trunks, made a perfect foil for the red rocky, soil and rocks all around. It was an artist’s dream.

I had looked, without success, for some years for the Red-browed Pardalote. I followed up quite a few recommended spots in the Alice Springs area looking for this little bird, but couldn’t find it. I had just about given up seeing it on this trip. On a trip to the Ochre Pits, an ancient area where the aboriginals excavated ochre, and traded as far away as Queensland, as I walked along the dry creek bed, there in a tree above me was the bird I had been so long looking for. At last I had found my Red-browed Pardalote! Its five note call was what first attracted me. I was very thankful to have some really good views of this little shy bird, and to my eyes, beautifully coloured in a subdued way.

The walks and views of the country at Ormiston Gorge were really worth while. There is now a long graded walk along the West MacDonnell Ranges, and if I was younger, I would be most attracted to walking it. There have been reports of Grey Honeyeaters, Grey Falcons and the sought for Rufous-crowned Emu-wren among the many birds seen along the walk.

We travelled back to Alice Springs after some days, and set out to go north a little way to a spot we were told we ought to be able to see the Banded White-face. On the way to the spot, we had a good view of a Black-breasted Buzzard. We later saw another at the start of the Oodnadatta Track. Light rain had set in, so we did not want to risk getting bogged in the dusty sandy country, and went back to Alice Springs. We had hoped to stop over in the East MacDonnell Ranges, but the light rain had set in, and we were not set up for really rainy weather. We had a quick look at the East McDonnells, being most impressed with them too, and trust, Lord willing, to return there another day. They had a different beauty from the West side. From here we set off to see Ayer’s Rock and the Olgas. On the way, just north of Erldundra on the Stuart Highway, I ventured for a walk off the road, and managed to find a pair of the really delicately attractive little birds we had been looking for, the Banded White-face. The pair had a very nice call, and were shy, but often came out of the sparse bushes on the stark, otherwise barren landscape, so that one could get very clear views of them. It is amazing to think birds are in such areas, they seem so bare and denuded of cover, but there they were, and perfectly at home in such country. The children were called and also had a good view of them. Bird watching is so much more satisfying when you can share it I find.

The children were not keen for a long walk, so I set off into the distance on my own when I thought I heard the distinctive and attractive chiming of the aptly named Chiming Wedgebill. They reminded me of a very nice door-bell, or the chiming of a Westminster clock. It took some doing, but eventually I was able to track down a flock of four of these delightfully sounding birds and get some good views of them. We also saw them again at the start of the Oodnadatta Track, and I was able to show most of the children a view of them.

There was very little birding to be had at Ayer’s Rock. There is no place really to walk in the bush now with it being off limits because of Native Title. We appreciated the views and the area, climbing Ayer’s Rock and a walk on the paths in the Olgas - bush camping just outside the boundary of the park. The rocky formations were most striking. Seeing them made our thoughts turn to God’s greatness, the maker of these great things. The Grey Falcon is said to be seen at a certain spot in the Olgas, but though we strained our eyes at the spot, not a glimpse did we obtain of this beautiful raptor.

We planned to return home via the Oodnadatta track. However, because of the rain, we couldn’t get more than about fifteen km beyond Marla. We spent a Lord’s Day camped in the Mulga off the side of the road. It was nice to remember the Saviour in the midst of His great creation, and to draw near to Him with all around us bearing witness to His existence and reality. As usual on the Lord’s Day, we had a little camp service in the morning and evening, to pay homage to Him.

Because of the rain we returned to Marla and went south for a second visit to Coober Pedy. From Coober Pedy, after consulting the Police, we travelled across a graded dirt/gravel track to William Creek, visiting a lake with the longest place name in Australia - Lake Cadibarrawirracanna. A little stop-over was enjoyed by us all, especially as all these lakes had water in them with rain earlier in the year. We met a man and his wife there who had been waiting 55 years to visit this lake. He learnt of it when he was about ten at school. He had to learn to spell it. He was fascinated by the name and the location of the lake. We were happy to share the event with him.

As we travelled along we were pleased to see that little bird of the inland deserts and plains, the Inland Dotterel. We were to see several quite large flocks. That bird of the desert, and remarkably coloured for camouflage in the desert, the Cinnamon Quail-thrush, also was regularly seen. We really enjoyed our trip down the Oodnadatta track, and our stay at William Creek with light planes parked in the main street before the colourful "pub" - the only building in the "street". While stopping overnight in their camping area, most of us were woken in the early hours to hear a large pack of dingoes putting on a chorus. It was beautiful! We had at other times and places heard an individual dingo howl, but had not heard a pack chorus before. After seeing Coward Springs, further down the track, we would aim to stay at this spot, rather then William Creek, if ever we find our way to this area again. It had a bath and shower from a hot bore, and nice oasis of Tamarisk and Date Palms, and a little wetland from the bore overflow - a nice birding area.

At Lyndhurst, we went some twenty six kilometres up the Strzelecki Track, to where one of Australia’s and the world’s rarest birds may at times be found, the elusive Chestnut-breasted Whiteface. This general area is the only known area in which it exists. The country to some would be barren "moonscape", but I found the undulating gibber hills and gullies with the occasional flat, quite attractive. There was only low vegetation, except for a rare gully that would be a creek in the wet, where some eucalypts grew. Acting on some information we had, and a tape of the Chestnut-breasted Whiteface’s call, we went to an area they are known to occur, and to our great satisfaction, within half an hour we were most privileged to have called up three pairs. The views were outstanding and immensely satisfying. They really are such wonderfully marked little birds with their soft colours and their chestnut banded front. They were much more attractive than any drawing I have seen of them. They just seem to appear out of nowhere, and to disappear so quickly too. We also had a glimpse of a Thick-billed Grasswren who, with all its kin, didn’t really want to be seen. Sightings of both of these birds were first for us. In this area we also saw a small flock of Gibberbirds, and Rufous Calamanthus (Fieldwren). They were quite common, and it was most enjoyable looking at them.

The showers continued to persue us in this desert land, and so we moved onto the Flinder’s Ranges. Here too however, we had to cut our trip short. If the creeks had come up we would be really cut off. We all found the Flinder’s Rangers really outstanding. We trust, Lord willing to return to this area also again another day. It was here that we saw, among various birds, Elegant Parrots.

As we drove on towards Adelaide, it was appropriate that we saw Adelaide Rosellas (a race of the Blue-cheeked Rosella) and their outstanding bright orange colours. We really appreciated the views we had of them. After a stop at Claire’s caravan park to wash up, we set off for Adelaide. We were hoping to visit some of our CBOS members there. We had planned to ring and see if we could call on Mr. & Mrs. Max McNamara at Hilton and Dr. & Mrs Bryan Ezard at upper Sturt, however, the rain set in, and we felt we could not risk camping out in too wet a weather, so we headed for home, stopping just over the SA/VIC border to camp. We saw a Shy Heathwren in the Mallee where we camped as well as various birds found in such country, including the Crested Bellbird, before finally arriving back at our home.

We certainly had much to thank the Lord for - trouble free travel, enjoyment of this great country we live in, and the freedom to travel and worship without persecution or hindrance. To see the sights we saw, and to take in the sounds and wonders of creation, including the birds and plants; to share these as a family, made our holiday one we will remember all our lives. The children are now saving and planning for the next one.

On the trip I was able to see 32 new species or races of birds, and the total number of species seen was 228. I had expected to see some birds and did not. Apart from the Rufous-crowned Emu-wren that I had expected, but failed to see, we also failed to see the Black-tailed Native Hen, Australian Bustard, Australian Pratincole, Banded Stilt, Fairy Tern and Black Falcon.

It was lovely to get back home - there is no place like it is there, with our loved ones and brethren. It is also great to be able to get away from time to time for a break and do the things we enjoy - such as camping out, plant hunting and bird watching, and walking close with the Lord in the midst of His creation.

This report was published in The Christian Bird Observer’s Magazine, April 1998